It took a long time for journalists to feel secure in Latin America. Between the right-wing and left-wing dictatorships and the private hit squads, freedom of press was a delicate thing in the region.
The 1990s were the best years for press freedom.
And then things started to go bad.
The right-wing dictatorships were gone but new “populist” left wing governments started taking over. And these governments saw the “need” to “guide” the media. In some cases — such as Ecuador and Venezuela — the governments just decided free press was not a luxury the country could afford.
Then there were hit squads from narcos and less-than-reputable local businessmen who did not like reporters poking into their affairs.
The annual Press Freedom Index from Freedom House documents the sorry state of press freedom in the region.
The Fragile State of Media Freedom in Latin America
While I disagree with the Freedom House designation of Honduras as having a “Not Free” press, I can understand why some might think so. The attacks on the media here make life dangerous for journalists. The only problem is that there is no proof that most of the 24 murders of journalists took place to intimidate the journalists.
To be sure, it is a good assumption, but in some cases there is also indications that the dead journalist could also have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. (After all, Honduras has about 20 murders a day.)
Lots of people — mostly on the left — got upset when President Obama focused on the threat to free media from Ecuador in his Press Freedom Day statement. These people said he should have gone after Honduras.
The difference between Honduras and Ecuador is that the government of Ecuador has a concentrated campaign against independent and free media. While the Honduran government does not.
To me, that is a major difference.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House Project Director of “Freedom of the Press” sums up the government situation in Latin America nicely:
[In] Bolivia and Ecuador the state has assumed a growing share of media ownership, following the example of Venezuela, where the government has actively subsidized or opened media outlets and then used them to propagate pro-government messages.
The Freedom House charts show the major deterioration of press freedom takes place mostly in countries aligned with Venezuela. Mexico is the only exception.
Journalists in Mexico — like those in Honduras — don’t face official government threats, but rather threats from weak and corrupt government institutions that cannot or will not properly investigate murders. Or corrupt individuals who turn a blind eye to murders committed by narcos and organized crime.
In neither Mexico nor Honduras does the evidence point to a concentrated campaign against journalists. Rather the weakness of the political and social structures make it nigh impossible for the governments to properly investigate and prosecute the murderers.